As Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” His words rang true last week as Bill and I embarked on a Road Scholar program entitled, “From the Mason-Dixon Line to the Potomac: Hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maryland.” Together with six other hikers, an awesome guide, Ben, and four different sweeps throughout the week, we hiked the close to 45 miles of the Trail located in the state of Maryland.
Shepherd’s Spring Outdoor Ministry Center was our home base as we returned there each night after a full day of hiking. Following a hearty breakfast each morning, we packed our lunches, jumped in the SAG van, manned by an amazing man, Mel, and took off to various starting points on the Trail. The mileage – and the terrain – differed each day, and although this section of the Trail is not known to be one of the most difficult, it provided a physical challenge for me unlike any other! I would describe it as rocks on top of rocks on top of rocks – although they were more like boulders than rocks!
So, with whom did we share this experience?
- Two women, Sallie and Kam, left their husbands at home and traveled from Kentucky and Virginia to do what they love – hike!
- Ken and Marge, our doctor and nurse team from Ohio, had obviously prepared for this experience as they are enjoying their very recent retirements.
- For Steve and Lisa from Pittsburgh, hiking is an extremely important part of their lives. They met on a hike, got married in the middle of a hike nine years ago and believe it not, after our 4 consecutive days of hiking were adding a fifth as everyone else headed for home! They have even participated in several extreme hiking events, hiking up to 100 miles in 30-plus consecutive hours! Can you say “sleep deprivation?” Gotta love those two!
It was truly a great group of hikers who became our friends in a community of sharing! As I tweaked my knee on Day 1 and suffered major blisters, they did, indeed, share – tape, moleskin, socks, knee brace – you name it; they shared it!
Although we did not give ourselves or each other “trail names,” that is the custom for most thru-hikers. During our daily section hikes, we met “Tinker Bell,” “Serenity,” and “3 Socks,” a woman in her 50’s who has completed 1700 miles of the total Trail. Hmmm, what might my trail name be? I will think upon that!
Following our guide Ben, we wended through the woods, following the white blazes located on trees. (There are approximately 165,000 white blazes on the entire Trail.) We deviated off the Trail several times – indicated by a blue blaze – to witness beautiful overlooks where you can see multiple states. We would stop for lunch at an overlook or a shelter, of which there are 262 on the entire trail. The shelters we experienced were kept in pristine condition by volunteers.
Although by the end of each hiking day we were all ready to return to Shepherd’s Spring, on our third day we received quite a treat when we stopped at Nutter’s Ice Cream Shop in Sharpsburg, Maryland. Although the woman who owns the shop is affectionately referred to as the “Ice Cream Nazi,” similar to Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi, I have never witnessed such a massive “kiddie” cone! As long as you are prepared with your flavor, your size, and your choice of cone or cup, you should have no problem with Mrs. Nutter! – certainly worth the visit and a true delight at the end of a hiking day!
Each evening after a truly gourmet dinner – look at the menus – (no weight loss for us!) – we enjoyed presentations on topics including history of the trail, placement of the Mason-Dixon Line, the Civil War, and medicinal and edible plants found on the Trail. On our last evening, we traveled to O’Hurley’s General Store in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where every Thursday night area musicians gather to play their instruments – guitar, flute, autoharp, hammer dulcimer, recorder, and piccolo – for over two hours, as townsfolk rest in rocking and folding chairs, enjoying the music. Where do you find something like this? Certainly a unique and precious piece of Americana!
So, in reflecting on the week, I struggled yet feel a great sense of accomplishment. Bill made it seem like a breeze and never stopped encouraging me along the way! He never lost his smile, never complained and even spent his birthday on the Trail! Here are just a few things of the things I learned on (or from) the Appalachian Trail…
- There is a difference between being “in shape” and being in “hiking shape!”
- It is better to enjoy a hamburger than to feel as if your feet are chopped sirloin! (I might be able to put shoes on in a few days!)
- There’s nothing wrong with being in the “back of the bus.” (In the SAG van, Bill and I literally occupied the last seat, and I spent most of my time hiking in the back of the pack – the sweeps and I got very close!)
- A “walk in the woods,” as Bill kept calling our daily treks, is truly a wonderful opportunity to meditate and contemplate the beauty of nature and your place in it. (We saw multiple snakes, awesome spiders and webs, a turtle, deer, and two blue herons.)
- We’ve come a long way from the privy – but they’re still out there!
- Every year the Appalachian Trail is remeasured and rerouted, if need be.
- Every inch of the Trail is maintained by volunteers!
I have a sincere respect for everyone who takes on the Trail, whether it be a thru-hike of the approximately 2181 miles from Georgia to Maine, or any, and I mean any section thereof!! Am I glad I tackled the Maryland miles? Indeed! Will I be hiking this week? I think not! Will I ever hike again? For sure!
Stay Calm and Travel On…